Nearly two weeks ago, I’d come out of a horrible fever, and Scotland had changed entirely. With my head no longer throbbing, I headed down to the city center for some fresh air with two of my flat mates. Construction workers and tourists filled the streets as the sound of heavy machinery droned out Edinburgh’s ubiquitous bagpipers. The greenery of Princes Street Gardens—the city’s largest gardens, with the geographic divide between Gothic Old Town up on a hill and Neoclassical New Town down below—disappeared beneath yet-to-be-completed wooden stalls resembling mini ski chalets. The city’s skyline had changed to the color of a ruby red Ferris wheel, and other amusement park rides filled the spaces between shops and buildings. On my first walk out of my flat in days, I had stumbled upon the construction of one of Edinburgh’s most cherished traditions: the Christmas Market.
As with many European cities, Edinburgh transforms into a winter wonderland in preparation for the holiday season. Here,the streets are lined with twinkling lights and buildings decked with tinsel long before Thanksgiving rolls around. With bitingly cold weather and the sun setting by 3:45 pm, it’s no wonder that Christmas starts this early.We join the swelling throngs of bundled-up people and head down to the Edinburgh Christmas Market and, after passing through the market entrance gates, stepped into a cultural microcosm of modern Europe. We pass the French crepe stands, peruse the German wurst stalls and sample Danish honey while sipping mulled holiday cider to keep warm. Yes, there is the occasional nay-sayer in the crowd going on about the excessive consumerism and materialism promoted by the market and what this says about today’s society. Nevertheless, for every critical realist there are a dozen holiday enthusiasts basking in the seasonal cheer.
The Christmas Market, like the entire concept of study abroad, is where old meets new. The Scott Monument, the Victorian structure dedicated to Scotland’s premier author, is sandwiched between the market’s neon star flyer swing ride and iconic Ferris wheel and, from afar, looks like it’s being scraped by high-speed swings. Down below, vendors in traditional dress weave their way through the down-clad throngs selling handmade figurines, bedazzled cell phone cases, churros, spiced wine, scarves and countless other products. This collision (metaphorical, thankfully) between history and modernity colors the market and shines as night settles in.
As we sample regional whiskies and ooh-and-ah over various cashmere tartans, we are also sampling the diversity of Scotland, as well as much of Europe, in the two-block radius of the Edinburgh Christmas Market. In a strange way, studying abroad is like sampling at a Christmas Market. Like the market itself, my experience in the U.K. builds upon the past—my previous experiences at home, at Georgetown and everywhere in between—yet dynamically changes with each passing day. To me, study abroad is a mixture of the familiar and the strange, of classic holiday gifts and obscure Scottish Christmas traditions. It is an opportunity to experience different cultures while also embracing what it means to live in Scotland. And that is absolutely thrilling.
Living in a foreign country is akin to riding the star flyer and feeling like you might crash into the Scott Monument: it is both exhilarating and terrifying. I vividly remember experiencing pangs of loneliness while lying in my cell-like room on the first night here, but looking back, I see how quickly those pangs melted into adventurousness and excitement to embrace life across the pond, regardless if whether that means hopping on a plane to a new city or sitting in a quaint coffee shop all day. It’s funny how quickly I have adjusted to Edinburgh, nightly flat dinners, always carrying a raincoat and looking right then left at crosswalks. Yet, similar to the Christmas Market, I will not be here forever. On one hand, the finality of my stay fills me with a sense of urgency and makes me want to run through all the streets in the city, making sure that I have seen everything possible before I leave. On the other hand, it also makes me want to sit back and soak in the time I have left with my flat mates and friends, for it is these little moments that will always stay with me. So even though exploring the Christmas Market, with its holiday sweets and delicacies, is always exciting, the closer we get to Christmas—and to my flight home—the more bittersweet it feels.
Margie Fuchs is a junior in the College. This is the last appearance of Life on the Fringe.